The 400-HP Ford Explorer ST Is Quick, Compelling, and Unexpected
Ford moves its new Explorer to a rear-drive platform, then hot-rods it with a potent V-6 and all-wheel drive.
The 2020 Ford Explorer ST pictured here can get to 60 mph in a scant 5.2 seconds, which is only a tenth of a second quicker than a 1991 GMC Typhoon could. How many of us would have thought back at the dawn of the grunge decade that the utterly outrageous GMC would be a harbinger of the future? We'd guess zero. At the time, the Typhoon and its pickup brother, the Syclone, were bizarre, out-of-the-blue-sky anomalies. But look around now: The market is chockablock with high-powered, hunkered-down SUVs. The Explorer ST, like the Typhoon, is powered by a turbocharged V-6. Both are all-wheel drive. And both eschew chrome and brightness in a bid to look at least a little bit menacing. A note to Ford's communications staffers, who are no doubt less than thrilled about us equating their new hotness with a nearly 30-year-old GM product: Don't worry; this part will be over soon.
The Explorer ST is not actually like the GMC Typhoon. For one thing, the Ford isn't named after a storm capable of creating widespread calamity and death. It doesn't even get its own name, just its own suffix: ST. And before we go all independent-music-store snobby about applying that suffix to this three-row SUV, let us remember that the sum total of the history of ST in the U.S. before Ford started slapping it on SUVs was only two cars: the Focus ST, which was an admirable effort, and the Fiesta ST, which, living up to its name, was a party on wheels, a splash in the waves, as precious as Tuesday afternoon drunkenness.
Also, compared with the Typhoon, the Explorer ST has twice as many doors, two more seats, two fewer drum brakes, six more forward gears, one fewer live axle, and wheels that are five inches greater in diameter. By our measurement, it will travel seven more miles for each gallon of fuel consumed. And the cheeky Explorer ST will give you a butt massage (front-seat passengers only).
This silver ST is the first new Explorer that we've had the chance to take to the test track. But all 2020 Explorers benefit from an entirely new platform, which manages the nice trick of growing only an inch longer while riding on a wheelbase that expands by more than six inches. Just as impressive is that our well-equipped ST's curb weight was 127 pounds lighter than a 2017 Explorer Platinum's. It's still a plump 4853 pounds, but we're trying to be encouraging here. And that weight is better distributed between the front and rear than the last Explorer's was; the new one carries only 51.3 percent of its heft on its front axle, compared with 54.9 in the last generation. That's in part because this Explorer has its engine mounted longitudinally instead of transversely. Also, the base model is now rear-wheel drive instead of front-drive. All STs are all-wheel drive.